As the Battle for KHARKOV drew to its conclusion in Army Group South, the weaker southern flank was having its own tribulations. Held more lightly than the centre, with a large proportion of minor allied troops (Romanians, Hungarians and Italians) the front had all but collapsed over winter, and as the Soviet Voronezh Front pushed hard against Generakl Kleist’s XLIV Korps, the Southern Front advanced 33rd and 22nd Armies against the key cities of ZAPOROZHYE (ZAPORIZHIZHIA in modern Ukranian) and DNEPROPETROVSK (DNIPRO on Google map)¹.
This far south, the first signs of the spring thaw were making it clear that the cities would have to be taken soon, or not at all. The pressure was on Colonel General Andrei I. Yeremenko. The Operation at DNEPROPETROVSK begins where the last game finished after a long winter pause for reorganisation on both sides.
Strung out between the two cities were the remnants of 7th and 11th Romanian infantry divisions, although in truth the Romanian I Corps, to which they belonged, was no stronger than a weak division. It was strung over an impossible distance, and all that was saving it was the River DNEPR. In places, the river was one to three kilometers wide. Where it narrowed to half a kilometer, it was also faster flowing and deeper. To add to the attackers’ problems, the ice was also beginning to break up and the west bank was substantially higher than the east. The picture would be somewhere between two extremes. The Soviet players were hoping for this: Dnepr late melt as rivers in Russia melt from the south northwards.
“In the European part of the USSR the ice in rivers that flow from north to south (the Volga, Don, and Dnieper) begins to break up in the lower course, and the process gradually shifts upstream, so that there is drifting ice for a long period of time“
Whereas I had more this in mind. Regardless, the ruling for this operation was that crossing was possible only via bridges. The Soviets still chanced their arm and placed a company of Scouts in the centre of the river with much talk of rubber boats and wading gear. They drowned.
68 Infantry Division, a veteran Viennese formation, was defending ZAPOROZHYE with its rail marshalling yards. The bulk of the city was on the east bank of the DNEPR, which gave the divisional commander, Maj Gen Meissner, a difficult choice on his reserve demolition of the main rail bridge on the southern outskirts of the city. If destroyed too early, his division would be cut off; too late and he could lose the river crossing.
DNEPROPETROVSK was held by 99 Jäger Division (Regular Viennese, Lt Gen Krakau)² and 9 Infantry Division (Regular Hessen-Nassau, Maj Gen Gebb), although the latter played no part in the early battle, having been pulled to the northeast to cover a gap in the line.
Players for this game were Tim Merry commanding the German lines, Steven Churchus commanding 33 Army attacking ZAPOROZHYE, and YesthatPhil commanding 22 Army against DNEPROPETROVSK. Trebian was still recovering from head wounds sustained during his heroic attack at the front of 20 Guards Rifle Division at KHARKOV, and was unavailable.
We were playing NQM squared with the Corps Scale Orbat (CSO), and it seemed to be going well enough, albeit with the usual umpire tidying up of Divisional HQs that had wandered off to command other divisions, and the odd cheeky Scout company that thought they might not be spotted creeping over the river.
The decision to start modelling guns and limbers together on a single base was vindicated when even Phil got his (badly labelled on my part) units tangled up. Steven, who was newer to hordes of indistinguishable Soviets fared even worse, which is why I am in favour of players bringing their own toys to the table – they know their own troops better – even if it does highlight my cheerfully sketchy painting (more of that later).
To be continued …
- Frank Chadwick rendered ZAPOROZHYE as the more pronounceable ZAPOROZHA.
- Reorganised as 7 Mountain Division in winter 41/42. Its NQM equivalent is still in DNEPROPETROVSK, however.